Cleansing Fire

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Assuming a Cultic Character

August 17th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

It seems we can’t turn around these days without tripping over broken olive-branches our detractors cast back upon us with aspersion. However, today we don’t just have the honor of stumbling over these broken branches, but rather, carved branches which now resemble . . . what could they be . . . ah yes, drum sticks.

Our dear fraternal fellow Lee, peace be upon him, is reprising his role as the prophet of epileptic rythmitizing – yes, I do mean promoting “Rock Music” at Mass. While many matters liturgical are somewhat unclear, this is one whose debate is over and done. I don’t care how many people “like it” or “dislike it” – there is no place in any liturgy for the use of rock music. It is not proper, it is not licit, and it is certainly not in keeping with the Spirit of Vatican II, the Council whose decree on sacred music (i.e. “music at Mass”) states the following (my commentary added):

114. The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. (Preserved – that means that we take what is already in the Mass, i.e. Gregorian Chant. We do not have the right to do with the Mass whatever we want.) Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches; but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs, as laid down in Art. 28 and 30. (I don’t foresee everyone in the congregation being able to participate in a Rock Mass, singing their own individual parts, or banging their own little drums. However, I do see people in parishes, like Our Lady of Victory, St. Stanislaus, St. Anne, etc. picking up the missals and singing along with the chant. That’s called active participation, folks, and rock music doesn’t allow that.)

115. Great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutions and schools. To impart this instruction, teachers are to be carefully trained and put in charge of the teaching of sacred music. (Carefully trained – so I guess those who pursue music as a hobby aren’t qualified to add their own politically-tinged ruminations into the mix of liturgical debate?)

It is desirable also to found higher institutes of sacred music whenever this can be done.

Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training. (Genuine liturgical training does not include tambourines or guitars or bongos. It does, however, include the Liber Usualis, Renaissance Polyphony, and hymns which preserve the prayerful unity of the congregation rather than its entertainment.)

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. (How can Gregorian Chant be given “pride of place” when folks insist on running the show when they have little-to-no grasp of what the Second Vatican Council called for? It’s right here, folks – use Gregorian Chant. The actual Latin for the phrase “pride of place” is “principum locum.” You don’t need to be a Latin scholar to see the error in translation. Principal place, not “pride of place.” When something is of principal importance, you do it first, you follow its lead, you give it absolute authority. You do not, however, necessarily do that when something is given “pride of place,” like the oldest living family member who sits at the end of the Thanksgiving table in silence, drooling into his lap. No. Gregorian Chant has principal place, and must be used above all other musical forms, including sacred polyphony. The point is non-negotiable, but our “liturgy experts” tend to overlook this for the trite and banal pieces by Haugen and company.)

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30. (The spirit of the liturgical action is one of sacrifice, i.e. “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” The only sense of the sacrificial in rock music is the sacrifice of any modicum of decency on the part of priest, people, and musicians.)

117. The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X.

It is desirable also that an edition be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in small churches. (When I think “rock music,” “simpler melodies” is not the first thing that pops into my head. A raging headache, first, but then the thought of, “Wow – this is way too busy.” Chant is simple. It’s intuitive. Rock music isn’t. It can be entertaining, but it’s not what the Council directed us to embrace.)

118. Religious singing by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that in devotions and sacred exercises, as also during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out according to the norms and requirements of the rubrics.

119. In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius, as indicated in Art. 39 and 40. (Oh, please! If anyone makes the argument that America is a mission territory in the same sense of the words as the jungles of India or the Sahara of Africa are . . .  We aren’t aboriginies who have been in isolation for millenia. We’re Americans for goodness sake, and we have access to everything we need to have dignified liturgy.)

Therefore, when missionaries are being given training in music, every effort should be made to see that they become competent in promoting the traditional music of these peoples, both in schools and in sacred services, as far as may be practicable.

120. In the Latin Church (that’s us, folks) the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things. (The organ is the prime instrument for Latin Rite liturgy. Although, I’m sure that rock Masses don’t fall under this category. After all, we have an Anglican Usage Mass . . . why can’t we have a Preslyan Usage Mass? I can hear it now – “I ain’t nothing but a hound-dog unworthy to receive thee . . . “)

But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful. (There isn’t anything dignified about guitars, amplifiers, and drum sets. Period.)

121. Composers, filled with the Christian spirit, should feel that their vocation is to cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures.

Let them produce compositions which have the qualities proper to genuine sacred music, not confining themselves to works which can be sung only by large choirs, but providing also for the needs of small choirs and for the active participation of the entire assembly of the faithful. (This is kind of the opposite of what rock music promotes. Gee . . . it’s almost as if reality is dividing the sacred and profane without any effort. Imagine that.)

The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources. (I’d be willing to bet that any rock Mass is focused more on the boom boom boom of the rockers’ egos, and not on the theological nuances of the Holy Mass.)

The Holy Mass was instituted 2,000 years ago, long before anything resembling rock music. However, at that time, the melodies for certain of our Gregorian chants were in use. Many of our Mass settings, our propers, our ordinaries, etc. can trace their melodies back to the chants of the priests in King David’s Temple. Why do we turn our back on these for the sake of something which has only presented itself as an art form in the past 35 years? That’s not only short-sighted, it’s terribly immature. It shows a fear of what is greater than us, and rather than confront the mystery and confusion, we run into the arms of the things with which we are the most familiar. When you were a little child and got separated from your mother at the mall, the grocery store, etc. you didn’t run into the arms of the creepy old man next to you just because he was there. No, you avoided the convenience of that man’s grasp and you went running towards your mother. The sooner we do this in a liturgical sense, and run from the things closest to us for the things which are most precious, we’ll begin to see vibrancy at Mass, increased attendance, more vocations. People yearn for transcendence, not vulgarity.

There’s no room for personal taste at Mass. It doesn’t matter what we like or dislike. Even if I thought Gregorian Chant was the most hideous thing every created (which it’s not), I would still crusade for its use. Why? Because it’s sacred. It has been set apart as the thing we’re supposed to hear at Mass. Rock music, jazz, rap, ballroom music, and calypso beats are distinctly there for our leisure, and not for Mass. They are profane in the sense that that are pro (Latin – “in front of”) the fane (Latin – “the shrine, temple”). They are outside of the sacred. Each kind of music is specifically suited to where we hear it. We hear Calypso music in tropical locales – we get festive. We hear Jazz in New Orleans – we get inspired to jive. We hear rap in the “ghettos” – we get inspired to duck and run for cover. We hear Gregorian Chant at Mass – we are struck by the mystery and, here’s the word again, the transcendence. Ask any young man or woman who is discerning a call to serve the Church. They will tell you, without exception, that they weren’t attracted by the theme-Masses, the inclusive language, the novelty of certain contrived “rites.” They are attracted by a realization that the Church is something outside of human manipulation, for it was founded by God Himself. Sure, humans can cause havoc within the Church, and do so royally, but the Church stays on track.

To insist on continuing in illicit behavior just because “people like it” is reckless. It’s irresponsible, inappropriate, and adolescent. I would bet an amazingly obscene amount of money that the average age of those participating in the rock Masses of the DoR is well above the average age of those who attended the Colloquium. And guess which group is more on-fire for the Faith? Guess which group produces/produced more vocations? Guess which group is joyful in its reverence, not just plain goofy? Guess which group is excited about orthodoxy? Guess which group has the bigger families? Guess which group has a better grasp of the documents of Vatican II?

I close with the Pope’s explanation of sacred music from his classic, “The Spirit of the Liturgy.”

“Rock” . . . is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe.

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8 Responses to “Assuming a Cultic Character”

  1. avatar Nerina says:

    And you got to use the new “Crypto-Nazi” tag!

  2. avatar Gen says:

    It seemed to fit very nicely, Nerina.

  3. avatar RochChaCha says:

    Perhaps Lee should consider changing the name of his blog from ‘View from the Choir’ to ‘view from the Stage’. That would seem much more fitting for rock music performances.

  4. avatar Ink says:

    I like rock music. It helps me forget the world. And good mellow stuff like Sting and Peter Gabriel are essay-writing musics. But church music is chant, always and forever.

    Besides, if all church music were rock music, what would harpists-in-training like me play, hmmmmm?

  5. avatar Christopher says:

    Ink, you can play rock on your harp, youtube “Harptallica” for the Metallica Harp band. 🙂

  6. avatar Dr. K says:

    I’m in the same boat as Ink. I love rock, but it doesn’t belong in church.

  7. avatar Ink says:

    Christopher: That is pretty awesome, but you can’t just leave the vocals out of Metallica! You need that grating voice overlying it all. So I am rather disappointed, to be honest.


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